The latest downmarket provocation from poke-a-stick-in-your-eye auteur Bobcat Goldthwait may be the unlikeliest, a found-footage horror cheapie that turns out to be its creator’s warmest, most satisfying work. (At least since his peak stand-up days; young Goldthwait’s comedy was uncommonly sharp and insightful.)
Another shock: The movie is legitimately creepy, especially in its soon-to-be-celebrated centerpiece, a single shot of its leads cowering in a tent that runs for some 20 minutes. Like the beasties hunting in Goldthwait’s woods, that memorable long take sneaks up on you, and it’s presented without flash or distracting self-regard. Instead, it’s the most natural way to soil us in real-time fear.
The horror’s a long time coming, but Goldthwait and company make the waiting worth it. Willow Creek‘s comic first half follows Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), a pair of good-looking filmmakers working on a reality TV-style doc about Bigfoot country, interviewing real locals along the real “Bigfoot Byway” and bickering amusingly over whether the legends have any truth to them. Goldthwait’s love of local color gives these scenes a welcome kick.
Even a performance by a folksinger dubbed “the Bob Dylan of Bigfoot Country” feels like an affectionate ribbing rather than a swipe at true believers. (That singer’s characterization of the infamous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage: “952 frames of truth!”) Only once does Goldthwait joke about his genre, which always mines the teensiest incidents for suspense.
Returning to their campsite after a swim, Jim asks, “What is my sock doing in the tree?” It’s hilarious, and, unlike in most found-footage flicks, something scarier’s actually coming, even if it is mostly rendered in shadows and sound effects.